Skip to comments.Fighting fear in Cuba
Posted on 03/12/2002 9:16:18 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
When Pope John Paul visited Cuba in 1998, he planted seeds saying, ''No tegan miedo'': Be not afraid. Today the fruits are visible in the Varela Project, a dissident effort that has collected 10,000 signatures supporting a petition demanding human rights and democratic change.
The signatures represent 10,000 Cubans who overcame fear of being beaten, harassed, fired, jailed or worse to openly defy Cuba's police state. Their desperate desire for change has trumped survival instincts that demand silence -- instincts drilled into them by a dictatorship that, after 43 years of absolute power, continues to persecute people who criticize it.
Sadly, Cuba remains a place where signing a petition is considered seditious.
And what a document the petitioners signed. A widely supported petition is the only legal method by which to generate citizen-sponsored legislative change, according to Cuba's constitution. The petition asks the National Assembly to consider laws guaranteeing economic, social and political freedoms. Among those are free speech, free markets and assembly; free and fair elections and freedom for political prisoners.
In short, the project -- named for a celebrated 19th Century Cuban priest who advocated basic freedoms -- aims to jump-start a transition to a democratic society.
Much credit is due, not only to those who signed, but also to the courageous Cuban dissidents who conceived and led the massive effort, notably Oswaldo Payá, head of the Christian Liberation Movement. Commendably, Elizardo Sánchez, of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, Gustavo Arcos, of the Cuban Human Rights Committee, and Héctor Palacios, of the Democratic Solidarity Party also supported the Varela Project early on.
Mr. Páya recently described how volunteers seeking signatures persisted despite thrashings, detentions and threats. They've had to hide the sheets to prevent Cuban security agents from destroying them.
The lengths to which these activists have gone and the astounding numbers of Cubans who joined them, show how ripe Cuba is for change. Moreover, the 15,000 signatures of support for Varela Project that were collected in Miami shows the goodwill of many Cuban exiles.
Rather than accept a dictator's eventual death as the only path toward freedom, Cubans are practicing the art of the possible on the island. Whether or not the regime acts on the Varela petition, the effort is a boost to Cuba's nascent civil society and has begun to dispel hopelessness and fear.
Cubans on the island, with support from the diaspora, can and will lead way to freedom. Be not afraid
Romell Iglesias, left, director of "A Media Manana", fields a phone call during a live broadcast, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2002, in Miami. Radio Marti officials denied charges by the Cuban government that the station broadcast remarks by a Mexican official to deliberately incite the occupation of the Mexican Embassy in Cuba. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Cuban police launch their dogs to disperse a small group of people outside the Mexican Embasssy in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2002, after a us crashed through the gates and an unknown number of Cubans rushed inside. Castro arrived at the embassy shortly after midnight Thursday where he greeted _ and was cheered by _ a group of more than 100 Cuban bystanders. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia)
A Cuban woman fishes off Havana's famous sea-front along Malecon avenue as the sun goes down, February 20, 2002. As the world economic recession affects the Caribbean's island's fragile economy, more Cubans are turning to the sea to find their evening meal. REUTERS/Rafael Perez
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